Modern Modesty?

Today, you’re in for a special treat.  I have written about this topic before.  However…My husband Jonathon penned today’s blog.  He has some great thoughts to share with you today. He poses an educated argument on this hot topic. Enjoy!


I saw a video pop up on Facebook recently that friends have posted (or reposted). It is a nine and a half minute video of a female clothing designer who goes through the history of the bathing suit and makes a call for modesty in female bathing fashion. In one of the iterations on Youtube, the video is actually titled “The Godly truth about bikini’s – FINALLY someone gets it”. She makes a point in the video of equating modesty with the wearing of a one piece bathing suit instead of a bikini. You are more than welcome to see the video here ( and make up your own mind on this subject, but I would like to venture my opinion on the video and on the concept of modesty in general.

First, the video gives a quick synopsis of swimwear from late 1800s to today. Did you know at the turn of the 20th century, proper ladies not only wore “bathing costumes”  from head to toe, but actually used small houses on wheels that were pushed into the water (where they would exit) so nobody saw them on the beach in their ‘bathing costume’? Who knew?! Not me. The video then discusses the modest one piece and a modest two piece (modest because it did not show the belly-button). Then, the history of the bikini…

Invented by a French designer, it was SO scandalous that models of the day would not don it. He had to hire a stripper to model it for the first time. It was named the ‘bikini’ after the islands where nuclear testing was being conducted (Bikini Atoll) because this design was going to be a bombshell in the world of fashion due to how immodest it was.

The presenter then goes on to speak of two Princeton studies of college aged guys that were shown women in various states, from ‘modest dress’ to fully clothed to ‘scantily clad’. The findings, as reported by the presenter, were that the guys saw the scantily clad ladies as tools to be used or not really people at all. Of course, there was no citation for me to go read the research for myself, I just have to take her word for it…and her bias was showing under her well put together and modest outfit. More on this study later in the blog…

I have three problems with this video in particular that mirrors my problems with the entire modesty debate. The main problem I have with the modesty debate in general is the utter failing of the Christian culture (and any other that I have seen) to recognize modesty is not a biblical standard but a social construct. A woman adorning herself with modest apparel (1 Tim. 2:9) is a biblical standard, to be sure, but what that standard looks like changes over time and depends on the prevailing culture. The very same verse that admonishes women to be modest (the one quoted a few lines above) goes on to state that modesty is put into practice by women when they do not braid their hair or put on pearls or gold or “costly array”. This was Timothy’s definition of a modest woman in the first century. This definition has changed based on changing social norms. Do we (in 21st century America) consider braided hair to be immodest? I don’t think so. Modesty as a concept is biblical. The definition of what clothing/actions are considered modest changes with the culture.

This is one of the main problems I have with this particular video as well. The presenter seems to be choosing what culture to use to define modesty for us, and it’s not contemporary society. She mentioned the turn of the 20th century with “impractical” bathing suits that went past the knee and elbow for the ladies and even mentioned the “36 square foot house” that some ladies would wear into the water. Why is that not used as the model for modesty? Why is the model of modesty defined as what we had in the 1950s? Why not a ’30s bathing suit? Why does she think ’50s fashion is modest, particularly ’50s swimsuits? She answered that question for me towards the end of the video, so I will make you wait until the end of this blog to find out why she chose a ’50s style as the standard for modesty.

The other problem I had with the video shows up in the research she quotes. Guys are shown pictures of “scantily clad” women and they MRI them and find that the portion of the brain that lights up when they see the pics is the part of the brain that uses tools. This study is held up as a prime example of why women should not be scantily clothed. Men might react to you like something to be used instead of something to be conversed with. I have a few problems with this study. She never cites anything (just that it’s a Princeton study) so I will ask my questions here instead of reading the research directly.

How do I know that this reaction (of Princeton male college students) can be applied to a 40+ male that never went to an Ivy League school? What about older men than me? Does my father-in-law (70+) process images of scantily clad women in the same temporal region that images of tools are processed? Do women react like that as well? If women have the same reaction, should we be requiring men to wear shirts and board shorts to swim in? How did they react to fully-clothed women? Did they process all images of women in the same region? We have no answers to these questions.

Even if we DID have answers to these questions, What does that location of processing mean? If I process love and hate in the same region of my brain, does that make both of them bad? If scantily clad women = tools…I don’t know a single man that gets aroused by picking up a hammer. I’m just saying. She interprets the results for us without really thinking about it…and she expects us not to think about it either.

OK, enough of picking on the study. What I have always disliked in these types of discussions (and this study makes the point for me) is, if the guys are responding this way, why is it the women’s problem? Are we as men not supposed to “take our thoughts captive”? Why are we men not being told to keep ourselves accountable for how we view women. In my world, a woman could walk by completely naked and if I think of her as a tool to be used and not a human being, that thought is *my* fault, not the woman’s. A ’50s style bathing suit is going to be no different to me that a tiny bikini if I have a lust problem, and if I don’t have a lust problem, either suit would be fine as well, right?

So…why is a ’50’s suit held up to be the perfect recipe for modesty? Why is covering your belly-button modest and uncovering it something that is shameful? Why is the bikini so bad? Why not full “bathing costumes”? She put up Audrey Hepburn as the model she wants to follow because she was always stylish and never immodest. Really? How about Audrey clad in only a man’s shirt…or horror of horrors…in a bikini! Why does she hold to this ’50s culture as the exemplar of modesty?


Oh…that’s right…because…wait for it…wait for it…remember she’s a designer. Gee, I wonder what she designs?! Yep. Bathing suits. Really? Yes indeedy, folks. She’s selling bathing suits modeled after 1950s fashion. I just sat through a 10-minute sales pitch not for modesty but for a clothing line. Her tag line for her business? “Who says it has to be itsy-bitsy?”

Who says it has to be itsy-bitsy? Not me, but don’t judge me (or my wife or any other woman out there) if they show their belly button the next time they go swimming. Ladies, wear a one piece if it makes you feel good and you think you look cute in it (and the designs she showed were cute, I have to admit).  But don’t limit yourself to covering from head to foot in fear that you will make men stumble. If I stumble based on what you are wearing, that’s on me – not you. Now go enjoy a guilt-free swim. I give you permission. I have to find my hammer.


2 thoughts on “Modern Modesty?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s